Ok, I admit it, failing at something is not the nicest feeling. Ever. It can be embarrassing to the max, even heartbreaking at times. And yet, making mistakes is a surefire way to learning. The thing is, you grow more through failures than you do through your successes. The trick, I think, is to learn to react to mistakes in a healthier way.
Success itself is a double-ended sword. As amazing as it is to be hitting it out of the park, there are some success pitfalls to avoid, such as making sure the success you achieve is actually on your terms, not on someone else’s. Are you successful because you are saying yes to everything, despite a niggling feeling of being trapped by having too many things to do that aren't bringing you joy?
When things are going well, over-confidence can also become an issue, leaving you vulnerable to silly mistakes, like leaving important things to the last minute. You may also find yourself teetering on the edge of a bigger crisis because you haven’t prepared yourself for things to come, and how your current success might mean you need to scale your business, fast.
On the other hand, success can also make you overly cautious. You start fearing you’ll lose what you’ve achieved, so you keep repeating the same patterns, wearing them out until you realise you’ve stopped taking steps forwards. You stop taking risks because you fear failure.
It’s not a comfortable place to be, holding on to what you’ve achieved so tightly that it suffocates you. It’s an especially dangerous place to be if you’ve managed to avoid mistakes all the way to a point where you really need to put something bigger on the line in order to move forward.
The good news is, you can learn to make mistakes in a way that frees you up. Start small, try this.
1 Make a mistake on purpose
Choose something that won’t rock your mental boat to the point of tipping it over, but that is still physically uncomfortable, say skipping something you were expected to do, but which in the greater scheme of things isn’t that important to you. Observe what it feels like, and how big an impact it makes. Perhaps not as big as you had feared? Learning that you can survive dropping the ball once in a while will make you more confident to risk failure in the future.
As an example, at the beginning of the year, I decided I was going to blog twice a month on all my blogs. A very achievable goal I thought. Three months in, and it's safe to say I've failed spectacularly. There were valid reasons, of course, there always are, but failure still feels the same. You know what, though? The world didn't end. My businesses didn't die. If anything, I've had more meaningful exchanges with readers than ever before at those times that I have managed to put some thoughts out there.
(I feel like I need to to point out that I'm obviously not advocating purposefully slacking and not taking care of your paying clients here!)
2 Don’t judge others for their failures
Develop a mindset of acceptance for other people, whether those who work for you or your colleagues in the industry. A mindset that allows them their failures, without judgment. Extend that mindset to even your competitors and try not to be cynical about their crazy-sounding ventures, or gloat when things don't work out for them. When you accept others taking bold steps while risking the possibility of them not working out, you’ll condition yourself to view failures as necessary road signs. Find people who you can discuss the times that you tried and failed with, and compare the lessons you learned.
3 Understand the true nature of failures
You don’t have to dig deep to start finding stories about how ‘failures’ shape the world around us. Every invention from penicillin to microwaves, post-it notes to light bulbs, has been a result of countless failures. Anything new and exciting needs to be born out of someone somewhere getting it wrong.
Always getting it right will always produce the same outcome.
Simply, because always getting it right will always produce the same outcome.
If you need some more help with getting comfortable with failing, you might want to read this post on how to deal with feelings of failure.